GM crops debate settled in Coorong district

Councillors have followed the advice of experts like GPSA's Caroline Rhodes, and three quarters of their ratepayers.

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Coorong farmers will be allowed to grow genetically modified crops following a vote of the district council on Tuesday.

Councillors took a hint from their ratepayers, three quarters of whom were in favour of lifting the GM ban, according to a survey.

Of the 84 local farmers, agronomists and others who completed the survey, a majority said they would be financially better off if GM crops were allowed.

Shortly before the vote, Grain Producers SA chief executive officer Caroline Rhodes, pictured, put the case to councillors in person at their meeting at Tailem Bend.

“Growers need to have the freedom of choice to grow the cereal, legume and oilseed varieties that best suit their farming systems,” she said.

“The current moratorium is constraining business and overall industry growth.”

GM-free crops had not recently been selling at a higher price than GM varieties, she said.

Anyway, if growers wanted to stay GM-free, modern grain sorting facilities like Viterra's at Tailem Bend would still be well equipped to handle their product, she said.

Meningie agronomist Matt Howell said GM crops had the potential to make sodic soils more profitable at Moorlands and elsewhere in the district.

In future, they would offer drought tolerance, insect resistance and better nutrition – “it’s going to change the game on how we farm”.

But stringent accreditation and licensing systems would still give non-GM producers, and consumers, peace of mind, he said.

When push came to shove, Councillor Glynis Taylor said, the people had spoken.

“We as a council need to support our industry and growers,” she said.

That included growers on the Narrung Peninsula; councillors including Sharon Bland wanted to keep that area GM-free, but the idea was shot down in the council chamber.

The GM ban had officially lifted across South Australia on May 15, but councils were given until November to decide whether they wanted their districts to stay GM-free.

The council vote will give Coorong growers the certainty they need to invest in GM crop strains.

The council had sought extra feedback from its ratepayers, and the two experts, after an earlier round of consultation proved inconclusive.

Murray Bridge’s councillors are also due to answer the GM question shortly.

Photo: Australian Rural Leadership Foundation.